STEWART LOCKS UP ANOTHER TOP-FIVE AT CHICAGOLAND Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Scores Series-Best 11th Top-Five Finish of 2009 in LifeLock.com 400 Tony Stewart dodged one accident and rallied back from a pit miscue and a flat tire to finish a...
STEWART LOCKS UP ANOTHER TOP-FIVE AT CHICAGOLAND
Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Scores Series-Best 11th Top-Five Finish of 2009 in LifeLock.com 400
Tony Stewart dodged one accident and rallied back from a pit miscue and a flat tire to finish a solid fourth in Saturday night's LifeLock.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
It was Stewart's series-leading 11th top-five finish of the 2009 season and his seventh top-five in nine career Sprint Cup starts at Chicagoland.
"You always need strong nights like we had tonight," said Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice "Back-to-School" Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). "When you're trying to put yourself in a position to win a championship, consistency is the biggest thing. To be able to knock off top-fives like we did tonight, that's what it's going to take to win a championship. That's what makes nights like tonight so crucial, being able to battle back from some adversity."
Stewart started 32nd and despite struggling to find the proper balance on his racing mount, the two-time Sprint Cup champion was in the top-10 by lap 65.
He stayed there for the next 140 laps in what was a rather uneventful middle portion of the 267-lap race. The last 60 laps, however, were anything but uneventful for Stewart.
After a lap-212 pit stop under caution, it was determined that Stewart had left the pit box without all of the lugnuts on one of his tires secure, so he was forced to pit one lap later to ensure that all the lugnuts were tight.
After restarting 15th, Stewart was attempting to battle his way back into the top-10 when his night nearly came to an end as Paul Menard spun right in front of him through the track's frontstretch on lap 227.
By dodging Menard, it appeared that Stewart escaped what ended up being a multi-car accident in turn one. However, after pitting the next lap for four tires and fuel, Stewart ran over debris left over from the accident as he exited pit road. The debris cut down his right-rear tire and caused him to pit once more, again costing Stewart valuable track position.
Stewart then fought a loose handling condition until he made his final pit stop under caution on lap 247. With nothing to lose, crew chief Darian Grubb called for wholesale changes on the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice "Back-to-School" Chevrolet that included track bar, wedge and tire pressure adjustments.
The chassis messaging worked as Stewart, who restarted 15th, worked his way to fourth by the time the checkered flag fell.
"It was a solid night, then it got to be really bad and then it got really good at the end there," Stewart said. "I'll take a fourth-place tonight, given where we were with about 30 (laps) to go. It was up and down. We were solid and kept picking our way to the front and got ourselves up to third at one point. We got really loose and fell back to sixth and we came in for a pit stop and we had a little hiccup in the pits and got behind. Then we cut a tire when we came off pit road after another stop for the big wreck down there in (turn) one. We ran through some debris. We were able to rebound from that and I'm really proud of the Office Depot/Old Spice guys for that. It was a strong effort.
"You could pass, you just had to get the balance. If we were a little bit off, we were a lot off. It's just such a momentum track that as soon as you break your momentum -- if you are little bit loose here or tight there -- just a little bit off anywhere, it really killed your corner and straightaway speed."
Mark Martin won the LifeLock.com 400 in dominating fashion by leading four times for a race-record 195 laps to score his 39th career Sprint Cup victory, his series-leading fourth win of the season and his first at Chicagoland. Jeff Gordon finished .415 of a second behind Martin, while Kasey Kahne, Stewart and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR, finished sixth, while Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Stewart maintained his position atop the championship point standings and now owns a 175-point advantage over second-place Gordon. Newman remained seventh in the standings, 499 markers out of first.
There were seven caution periods for 30 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a rare weekend off before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the July 26 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. The 16th running of the 400-mile race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.